NEC Squad helps St. Paul homeowners


The 100-year-old house in St. Paul’s Lexington-Hamline neighborhood that Greg Finzell has owned for 24 years had seen some improvements over the years to cut down on his energy bills, but a team of four helpful folks from the Neighborhood Energy Connection still found many ways he could save more money during an inspection earlier this month.

CORRECTION: The meeting time on January 28 is 7 p.m.

“We’d done some of what they suggested, but they told us about rebates for replacing appliances and other things I was unaware of,” said Finzell, who heard about the NEC’s home energy squads in his capacity as the Rondo Land Trust’s executive director. “They put weatherizing strips on our doors, blanketed the hot water heater, put in new compact fluorescent bulbs, a lot of good stuff. We’re going to offer this to the people who live in our homes, I think.”

Funded by proceeds from the Minnesota State Lottery and energy companies, the NEC squads began a pilot project in the Summit-University, St. Anthony Park and Thomas-Dale neighborhoods of St. Paul last August to help owners increase their homes’ energy efficiency.

Beginning in February with the Lexington-Hamline neighborhood, the NEC will launch a neighborhood-by-neighborhood project to offer inspections and on-the-spot help throughout St. Paul in 2010, said Josh Davis, NEC’s Home Energy Squad manager.

For a cost that ranges from free to $80, residents can get up to $400 of goods and services designed to reduce their utility bills by an average of $150 a year installed in their homes, he said.

The same program is under way at a $20 cost in seven Minneapolis neighborhoods under the direction of the Center for Energy and Environment and will soon be spreading to the rest of Minneapolis and Minnesota cities including Apple Valley, Rochester, Duluth, Austin, Owatonna and Park Rapids, said Neely Crane-Smith, CEE’s community energy coordinator.

In St. Paul, teams of two to four construction professionals and AmeriCorps volunteers come to the homes of people who have signed up for help and do a quick inspection to see what the house needs, Davis said. They bring bundles including programmable thermostats, compact fluorescent light bulbs, weather stripping for doors and windows, water heater blankets, faucet aerators and low-flow shower heads, which they will install on the spot of needed.

The entire process takes about 90 minutes, and can include scheduling a more in-depth energy audit to look at future options including additional wall and ceiling insulation, sealing air leaks with foam and replacing appliances, windows and doors, Davis said.

Attending a free neighborhood energy efficiency workshop sponsored by the Green Institute ahead of time can further buy down the $50-80 average cost of the improvements to just $30, said Carl Samuelson, Metro Clean Energy Resource Team organizer for the Green Institute.

One such workshop is scheduled for 7 p.m. Jan. 28 at the Hallie Q. Brown Center for residents of the Thomas-Dale and Summit-University neighborhoods. Workshops will take place in every neighborhood in St. Paul this year, he said.

Participants will also get a year of energy use reporting by Xcel Energy that compares their energy use to that of neighbors and the average for their type of home to see if they’re saving money, Samuelson said.

People who qualify for low-income energy assistance programs may be able to get the NEC squad visit and improvements for free, Davis said.

NEC squads have visited almost 500 homes in St. Paul so far, and Davis said they’re adding team members to meet a goal of improving 4,000 homes in 2010.

“That’s going to save up a lot of energy,” he said.

Along the way, the nonprofit hopes to work with the city and Xcel to focus on blocks within neighborhoods that have been hit by the waves of foreclosures to help residents cut costs and maintain their property’s value, Davis said.


Get more information
For more information or to sign up, contact:
Josh Davis, Neighborhood Energy Connection (651) 221-4462 extension 111;
Neely Crane-Smith, Center for Energy and Environment (612) 335-5852;
Carl Samuelson, The Green Institute (612) 278-7123;